18 Little Food Shopping Mistakes You Need to Stop Making Today


Think you've got your grocery game on lock? Check yourself before you wreck yourself with this list of food shopping mistakes that could bruise your ego — and your wallet.

1. Never Go on an Empty Stomach

This is a no-brainer, for sure, but we're all guilty of taking a trip to the supermarket when there's a rumbly in our tumbly. Heck, it might even be our own subconscious way of torturing ourselves just so we'll give in and sneak that pack of Oreos into the cart. But if any situation had buyer beware written all over it, it's this one. Satisfy your hunger pangs before shopping so you can get in and out with exactly what you intended to buy and nothing more.

2. Make a List Before You Leave the House

Shopping without a list is a recipe for disaster that can quickly turn what was meant to be a reasonably priced trip to the market into a budget-busting excursion. When you're not armed with a list, you'll notice all kinds of things that you think you need, but really don't. Personally, when I forget my list I find myself trying to convince myself that we're running low on an item that most likely we're not — and that's exactly why there are four bottles of ketchup in my fridge. Learn from my occasional mistake and plan ahead.

3. Plan Your Weekly Menu So You Don't Overbuy

I like this idea from a Facebook friend, and part of it's something that I already do. To ensure that I'm eating healthy as much as I can, I create a weekly menu so my meals are set in stone. It's so much easier to make dinner after work when the plan is already in place. The twist here is to use that menu as your shopping list as well. Check the recipes to determine exactly what you need and in what quantities and buy only those ingredients. You end up with less waste in your trash at the end of the week and more cash in your pocket.

4. Becoming a Victim of "Base Value Neglect"

Ever heard of "base value neglect"? I hadn't either, and it totally made me rethink my food-shopping strategy. According to Thomas Nitzsche of ClearPoint Credit Solutions, base value neglect is "when shoppers assume that a 'bonus pack' or larger packaging at a warehouse store is the best deal." Kind of a shocker, right? We sort of just presume that buying in larger quantities will cost less, but that's not always true. Nitzsche recommends using a smartphone calculator to break down the cost per unit to ensure that you're actually getting the best value.

5. Choosing Canned (or Even Fresh) Veggies Over Frozen

Food educator Kimmell Proctor specializes in family wellness, and she thinks many of us are making a poor choice by choosing canned (and sometimes fresh) fruits and vegetables instead of their frozen equivalents. "Frozen fruits and veggies are picked at their peak of ripeness so they're still loaded with nutrients and flavor — without the added sodium and preservatives of canned fruits and veggies," she says. "Not to mention, frozen produce is far less expensive than its fresh counterparts."

6. Buying Healthy Protein Sources in Small Packages

If you've ever compared the price of a small package of nuts versus a larger quantity, you'll discover that you're probably paying less in terms of price per ounce when you go a bit bigger. "Nuts, seeds, and dried fruit are all nutrient-dense, smart-sense snack foods that boast naturally long shelf lives. Beans are inexpensive but rich plant-based protein sources," Proctor explains. "Save money and eat well by sourcing these nutritious foods in the bulk aisles."

7. Wasting Salad Greens by Choosing Prepackaged

It's a familiar scenario in my fridge that I buy two packages of salad greens per week with the intent of consuming every last leaf before they go bad, but it doesn't always work out that way. In fact, buying these prepackaged greens may be a bad idea all around. Proctor says, "Not only do those bags of prepackaged salad mixes cost far more than loose, fresh greens, but they also don't last as long. Lettuces and other leaves wilt and become soggy twice as fast when bagged than when stored in your fridge's crisper drawer. Save money and the time of additional shopping trips by avoiding 'convenience' packaging."

8. Forgetting to Shake the Produce

If you have the good fortune of bumping into me at the supermarket, you'll see me shaking the wet produce like it did something wrong to me. Why am I doing that? Because I'm paying by weight for much of my produce, and excess water drives the price up. "Take a moment to dry your produce if it has just been sprayed with water — it'll weigh and therefore cost less," advises Jamie Novak, author of Stop Throwing Away Money. "And ask the employee to knock off any encrusted ice before packaging your purchase," she adds.

9. Being Too Shy in the Checkout Aisle

Have you changed your mind about a certain product once you're in the checkout line? That's totally okay; you're under no obligation to buy anything. So instead of sucking it up and paying for it because you don't want to "inconvenience" anybody, let the cashier know that you decided not to purchase it. He or she will take it back and put it behind the register. Case closed.

10. Grabbing a Cart Instead of a Shopping Basket

There's a perfect analogy for this problem, considering that Thanksgiving has just passed. When you have a large plate in front of you, you have a tendency to fill it up, no? Then you feel guilty and bloated and curse the holidays. With a smaller plate, however, you would have eaten less because you wouldn't have been able to fit so much food it. The same concept applies to your grocery cart. When you get the large one, you increase the danger level that you'll start throwing things in that you don't need. On the flipside, if you grab a hand basket before making your way through the aisles, you're less likely to make impulse buys because you don't have the capacity to carry it. Common sense, really, but it's an easy fix that's often overlooked.

11. Leaving Without a Rain Check If the Sale Product Is out of Stock

If you've missed out on a great deal because other savvy shoppers have bum-rushed the aisle and depleted the stock, ask the store manager if there's a rain check available. Often times there are, so you can take advantage of those savings at a later date.

12. Overlooking Fresh Food by the Case If You Have a Large Family

Vanessa Cassini, owner of the family lifestyle blog Live Simply Natural, knows firsthand how hard it is to feed a family of four on a budget. One tip she offers is buying produce by the case if your family consumes it quickly. "Many produce managers at your local grocery stores will provide a discount for buying a whole case of fruits or veggies," she says. "We regularly purchase 40 pound cases of bananas or 50 pound bags of carrots for almost half the cost since we buy it by the case. Coconuts regularly cost $3 to $4 each, but a case of 12 is only $9-$14 at [some] local markets."

13. Skipping Over Your Local Farmer or Co-Op First

Many of us think that buying produce from the farmer down the street will be more expensive than the grocery store because the grocery store has buying power the keep the cost down. Not always so. Cassini recommends visiting locally owned markets and stands to scout better deals. "Farmers' markets provide some of the best quality produce at prices that are very competitive," she says. "For example, organic bell peppers at my regular grocery store cost $4 each; our farmers market sells them for $1.99 a pound."

14. Failing to Give Store-Brand Food a Chance

I'm a hardcore name-brand loyalist (for no particular reason; it's just what I grew up eating), so it takes a lot of convincing for me to switch brands — especially to generic, store brands. Part of that might have to do with the packaging — I like all the bright colors and characters on my name-brand junk food — but you can save a bundle if you're willing to make the psychological sacrifice. Heck, you might even find out you like it. "Many private label products are of equal if not better quality than some of their branded counterparts," says the Quench Agency's annual Food & Beverage Trends Report. "Some retailers are launching premium plus private label products that don't resemble the private labels of years gone by."

15. Slacking on Your Pre-Trip Savings Skills

Are you using every savings tool available to reduce your grocery bill? Coupons, apps, weekly sales, and other strategies can save you a bundle — but you have to use them. I understand that sometimes we get lazy, or we're just too busy to clip this week, or we forget the coupons when we go shopping, but these mistakes will cost you dearly. I look at grocery shopping as a tactical maneuver, and I attack it as such. If you want to save the most money you can, you've got to work for it; super savings rarely come easily.

16. Buying Items Just Because You Have a Coupon For It

When you clip a coupon that you're on the fence about or that seems like a good deal even though you don't need the item, sit down, stare at it for one full minute, and decide whether this is a coupon that will save you money or one that will cost you money. If you don't need the item and you didn't budget for it, it's costing you money, not saving it. Beware of the coupons that require you to purchase multiple items to get the discount, also. Like $1 off when you buy two of something. It's often a trap, and you're falling right into it.

17. Falling for the "Buy 10 for $1 Each" Marketing Gimmick

I see this advertised in sales circulars all the time — 10 Whatevers for $1 Each — and I'm sure you do, too. These are great deals, for sure, but you may have been a bit blindsided if you're buying 10 items because you think it's required in order to qualify for the deal. That's not usually the case, actually. "It's very rare that you actually need to buy the specified amount," says Kiyo Wiesnoski, owner of MisPriced.co. "The items are the same price regardless of how many you buy. If you don't really need 10 of an item, don't buy 10. Also, some items have large signs that mimic 'sale' signs, but are actually just advertising the regular, everyday price. Make sure you lift those signs up to see the original price first."

18. Glossing Over the Sales Ad Before Shopping

How do you know if the items on your list are on sale if you don't take a look at the sales circular first? It's worth a quick look to inform your shopping trip and your savings. If something you don't necessarily need right now isn't on sale, wait a week and check next week's circular. No reason to pay full price when you have a little patience.

Do you have any food shopping tips to share with me that I didn't cover here? Let us know in the comments below.

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